Jan. 3 update: See important update at bottom – the site owner has identified himself.

I’m extremely troubled by this development, so much so I’m stopping a tight-deadline task to write this. Let’s hope that as things unfold this will resolve.

Ivan Oransky, executive editor of Reuters Health, and Adam Marcus run the Retraction Watch blog, which we’ve covered here occasionally.  It’s a side hobby project for them, “Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process,” as they put it.

This is immensely important for anyone who wants understand the available evidence that’s used in (duh) evidence-based medicine. The scientific process, especially peer review, is quite vulnerable to simple human errors, not to mention outright baloney such as fabricated data. Does this matter to the world? Hell yes – the whole anti-vaccine furor arose because of fraudulent data.

And does it matter to e-patients? Hell yes, because every time a clinician rolls his or her eyes at a patient who’s questioning evidence, it’s a setback for our shared efforts to improve the effectiveness of health and care … efforts to “let patients help,” as the saying goes.

Well, today Retraction Watch published Facing legal threats, Science Fraud temporarily suspends posting. Read it yourself … the Science Fraud site, which questions questionable research, has been threatened with legal action by an anonymous attorney and has stopped posting. (Temporarily, they say and I hope.)

See also Science Fraud’s shutdown post, which ends with this spot-on statement: “If the data are without integrity, there is no science!” 

That’s exactly the issue behind our other posts linked above, and about the shaky-puddingness of bad research, concealed data, etc. Any scientist with integrity is happy to have his or her methods examined for weakness.

I don’t know all the details, but at the moment it looks to me like whoever the anonymous attorney is working for, it’s a direct attack on open science. And that’s bad for patients – and for the clinicians who read medical papers.

p.s. Here are two reference points of view for open data:

  • In a 2009 TED Talk, Tim Berners-Lee got them chanting: “Raw data now!
  • Susannah Fox and colleagues at Pew Research publish all their research data, for others to scrutinize or even download and use for their own analyses.

As Berners-Lee points out, if you can’t see the raw data, all you’re finding is other people’s interpretations of the data – and that’s an opening for all kinds of shortfall.  Almost all scientific research is funded by tax dollars for the public benefit – I think it’s inexcusable for them to hoard the data and only publish conclusions, and I think it’s inexcusable for them to resist audit.

Update 1/3:  Retraction Watch has posted an update – the site owner has identified himself. See post for specifics.